Can one language be unique? Can one language confer significant benefits to its speakers, benefits that no other language seems to? This may be a heretical question to ask in this period that worships “multism” in all areas, but it may be prove to be a very important question.
Many luminaries have sung glories of Sanskrut, whose name itself says a lot – the suffix Krut comes from the root Kru meaning to confer, to do; so a generic AKrut term would mean the term confers/does “A”, whatever “A” is. San/Sans is a common prefix that generally means ethically excellent. For example, San-Vaad is a beneficial ethical dialogue; San-Vidhaan means beneficial ethical framework of regulation/concepts/law.
So SansKrut means an entity that confers/does ethically good and its noun SansKruti means ethically good culture. So much for the name. But what are the qualities that global luminaries have seen in Sanskrut language? Below is a short excerpt from our June 21, 2008 article titled Three Globally Dominant Languages in World History.
- “India was the motherland of our race and Sanskrut the mother of Europe’s languages” – Will Durant (1885 – 1981) – an American philosopher and historian.
- “Sanskrut is the unsurpassed zenith in the whole development of languages yet known to us” – Wilhelm Von Humboldt (1767 – 1835) – a diplomat, philosopher, founder of Humboldt Universitat in Berlin, a friend of Goethe and Schiller.
- “Sanskrut is the origin of modern languages of Europe” – Prof. Franz Bopp (1791-1867), a German Linguist who headed the Chair of Sanskrut and Comparative Grammar at Berlin from 1821.
- The Sanskrut language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than Greek, more copious than Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, – Sir William Jones (1746-1794)
Ok, Sanskrut is wonderful, but why could it be correctly called “unique”?
2. Why is Sanskrut Unique?
To best explain our premise, allow us to include short excerpts from our article of September 26, 2015 titled Why Indians Win Spelling Bees & in Silicon Valley? – An Underlying Historical Advantage?
- “Sanskrut is, probably, the only language in today’s world that was fully developed & deeply enriched with literature BEFORE writing became commonly used. Actually, the creation of Sanskrut texts that form Indian Culture & Thought precedes the invention of writing.”
- “So the verses that formed Sanskrut texts had to be composed and stored in memory. They were propagated & transmitted to students via recitation. … This is not merely an ancient phenomenon. Such studies were common till the beginning of the 20th century in India.”
- “How was this tradition of content creation-propagation maintained? First by devising proper phonetic methods of recitation that facilitated easy storage in memory and fast access. This required a formal development of stages of intelligence/memory and breakdown of stages of content creation.”
- “Imagine the enormity of this achievement. A successful practice of speech-based learning handed down form say 2,500 BCE to today’s modern age.[recent research suggests dating back this practice to as early as 4,500 BCE]”.
- “This was not easily accomplished. Technics were designed to ensure the absolute purity & rigor of Sanskrut recitation that kept the texts safe & intact over the 4,000 + years. When Max Mueller, the 19th century German Indologist, travelled through India, he was stupefied to discover that the Ved & other Sanskrut texts were recited in an identical manner through out that vast land”.
3. Practice Makes Perfect; Also a Physical Impact on Body?
Tiger Woods was introduced to Golf at the age two by his father. Young boys all over America begin playing neighborhood basketball as kids. We all know now that regular intense practice makes for greater development of muscles, motor skills and other physical traits that are necessary for success in athletics.
Does the same apply to memory development? It does according to traditional Indian curriculum for children. As James Hartzell, postdoctoral researcher at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language, writes in this week’s article in Scientific American:
- “In India’s ancient learning methods textual memorization is standard: traditional scholars, or pandits, master many different types of Sanskrit poetry and prose texts; and the tradition holds that exactly memorizing and reciting the ancient words and phrases, known as mantras, enhances both memory and thinking.”
But is there any physical evidence to back this belief? Our own experience lets us believe there must be. James Hartzell also believed so from his personal experience:
- “I had also noticed that the more Sanskrit I studied and translated, the better my verbal memory seemed to become. … Other translators of Sanskrit told me of similar cognitive shifts.”
To his great credit and to our combined societal benefit, Dr. Hartzell went much further to satisfy his curiosity:
- “When I entered the cognitive neuroscience doctoral program at the University of Trento (Italy) in 2011, I had the opportunity to start investigating this question. India’s Vedic Sanskrit pandits train for years to orally memorize and exactly recite 3,000-year old oral texts ranging from 40,000 to over 100,000 words. We wanted to find out how such intense verbal memory training affects the physical structure of their brains. Through the India-Trento Partnership for Advanced Research (ITPAR), we recruited professional Vedic pandits from several government-sponsored schools in the Delhi region; then we used structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at India’s National Brain Research Center to scan the brains of pandits and controls matched for age, gender, handedness, eye-dominance and multilingualism.”
This is just like studying the effect on body muscles & strength of intense physical exercise that has been & is being done at so many places in America. But Dr. Hartzell seems to be the first to do this for Sanskrit recitations of Vedic Pandits.
What did Dr. Hartzell find?
- “Numerous regions in the brains of the pandits were dramatically larger than those of controls, with over 10 percent more grey matter across both cerebral hemispheres, and substantial increases in cortical thickness. Although the exact cellular underpinnings of gray matter and cortical thickness measures are still under investigation, increases in these metrics consistently correlate with enhanced cognitive function.”
More specific results were also observed:
- “Most interestingly for verbal memory was that the pandits’ right hippocampus—a region of the brain that plays a vital role in both short and long-term memory—had more gray matter than controls across nearly 75 percent of this subcortical structure. Our brains have two hippocampi, one on the left and one on the right, and without them we cannot record any new information. Many memory functions are shared by the two hippocampi. The right is, however, more specialized for patterns, whether sound, spatial or visual, so the large gray matter increases we found in the pandits’ right hippocampus made sense: accurate recitation requires highly precise sound pattern encoding and reproduction. The pandits also showed substantially thickening of right temporal cortex regions that are associated with speech prosody and voice identity.”
Why did we include Alzeheimer’s? Dr. Hartzell writes:
- “Does the pandits’ substantial increase in the gray matter of critical verbal memory organs mean they are less prone to devastating memory pathologies such as Alzheimer’s? We don’t know yet, though anecdotal reports from India’s Ayurvedic doctors suggest this may be the case. If so, this raises the possibility that verbal memory “exercising‘ or training might help elderly people at risk of mild cognitive impairment retard or, even more radically, prevent its onset.”
4. A New Aspect in Educating Children?
That children should be introduced at an early stage to physical exercise is accepted science & practice. Given what Dr. Hartzell has discovered, why aren’t young children introduced to precise recitation practice that Indian Pandits were introduced to at a young age?
We all know that success in today’s economy demands more cognitive skills. So why should today’s children be deprived of proven & now demonstrated methods of enhancing memory & cognitive skills? Individual parents, especially those with Sanskrut Indian-American backgrounds, help their children via such recitation. So why not extend such benefits to all children regardless of the backgrounds of their parents?
Getting more localized, why don’t Indian NGOs dedicated to teaching children start such recitation programs to help their kids who come from all walks of disadvantaged Indian society? Possibly, such programs might prove contentious in India’s fabric of multiple jaats or ethnic communities with multiple languages? On the other hand, virtually all Indian languages come from Sanskrut and that might prove helpful.
The greater difficulty would arise in America where the concept of reciting Sanskrut verses could prove socially disruptive. Already there is resistance to reciting Sanskrut phrases that have been associated with Yog for thousands of years.
That actually raises a serious research question. Is there a specific “Sanskrut” effect?
5. A Unique Sanskrut Effect?
This immediately raises questions of racial/cultural uniqueness or superiority. So let us phrase it differently.
It is now accepted that loss of one sense often makes other senses more acute. Warriors, for centuries, have trained to fight with their eyes heavily taped to prevent their seeing anything. The idea is to let them feel the presence & direction of their opponent from subtle movement of air & enhanced sense of small sounds resulting from motions of their opponent. Martial Arts films of Jean-Claude Van Damme show him training so and thereby winning over his opponent despite being blinded by some powder thrown in his eyes.
Sanskrut, as we have said before, was developed BEFORE writing was invented. So propagation of Sanskrut was done via memorization & recitation. In contrast, most other languages used today were developed AFTER writing was introduced. These languages spread through use of written scripts.
Question – Did the introduction of writing rob us of skills that were necessary for non-written propagation of Sanskrut?
From our experience, we believe the answer is Yes. For example, besides Sanskrut verses, we used to recite poetry in other Indian languages like Marathi & Hindi as well as nursery rhymes in English during our childhood. We can unequivocally state that our memory of Sanskrut verses is far far greater than our memory of Marathi/Hindi verses (both Sanskrut-derived languages) and even far far greater than our memory of English rhymes.
We hope Dr. Hartzell as well as others succeed in their plans to study this unique Sanskrut effect by their planned functional studies of ” cross-language memorization comparisons”.
Personally speaking we are deeply grateful to Dr. Hartzell for his study using “structural magnetic resonance imaging” of India’s Vedic Pandits. His work has already demonstrated a path for cognitive development of young children every where in the world. We hope the leaders of Indian Education NGOs & movements establish basic programs that deliver such benefits to all children.
Speaking personally, we intend to begin daily Sanskrut recitation exercises to defend against a future potential onset of memory impairment or Alzeheimer’s. Of course, we will wait until the Football season is over. Future health is good but entertainment is more important to us at least at this stage. That is our weakness and we know it. Scholars tell us knowing one’s weaknesses is winning half the battle. Hopefully, they are right.
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